Bike Culture


Riding home from work on  Friday night, I got stuck behind a large mob of hooting and hollering bicyclists (imagine a bicyclist being slowed down by bicycle traffic).  Oddly enough this was at the same intersection where I witnessed a scooter and a jogger run through a red light.  At any rate, this was most certainly the monthly ride of Critical Mass Boston, but I was too tired to join in and was glad I was only at the back of the pack for a block or so until I reached the spot where I usually turn left.

Critical Mass is a bicycle advocacy event that I believe originated in San Francisco and also is very active in New York and hundreds of other cities.  I have mixed feelings about Critical Mass.  On the plus side I like that they are advocating for the bicyclists belonging on the road in such a fun and public manner.  On the downside, I’ve seen and heard of Critical Mass participants deliberately interfering with the flow of traffic, shouting obnoxious things at drivers and pedestrians, and ignoring all rules of the road.  On a previous occasion when I inadvertently ended up in the midst of a Critical Mass ride, participants mocked me for stopping at a red light.  The basic message I get is that since motorists are selfish, rule-flouting, bullies on the road, it’s okay for  bicyclists to do the same one day a month.  Since I don’t believe that two wrongs make a right, I can’t fully support Critical Mass.  I would be pleased if in addition to political activism and a fun participatory event they added bicycle safety as a third element for their rides. I imagine a line of bicyclists signaling for turns, stopping for red lights, wearing helmets, using headlights and taillights, and refraining from insults would make a very powerful statement.

Critical Mass is not the only game in town on the last Friday of the month.  This day is also the Green Streets initiative’s Walk/Ride Day.  Apparently if you walk or ride a bike on these days AND wear green one can get discounts and freebies at local stores.  I forgot to  wear green and didn’t do any shopping, and for that matter haven’t really figured out how it works so I’ve not been a participant.  I imagine it being like those radio bumper sticker promotions where if they see you on a bike in green you win cash prizes, but it’s probably not.

Another aspect of Boston area bike culture I’ve been enjoying lately is seeing riders on modified bikes called choppers.  There are whole organizations of these bicyclists with cool modified bikes such as SCUL in Somerville.  In my not-so-distant youth I recall leaving the clubs in Central Square and witnessing fleets of choppers on their missions.  Now I’m seeing more and more of them in the daylight.  One I saw in Porter Square the other day looked like two large bike frames welded one on top of the other and painted bright orange.  Since this put the rider about 8 feet off the ground, I really wonder how he mounts and dismounts without injuring himself.  On the bright side, drivers can never claim that they can’t see him!

For those of you interested in bike culture in Boston, you should check out this survey at the MassBike website.   The City of Boston is working with MassBike to gather information for future bike paths.  Things are changing now that Tom Menino is riding a bike.

To conclude this post, here are a few more links about bike culture outside of Boston.   I know the grass is always greener, but it looks like some places have a much more friendly, accepting environment for bikes than we do.  All of these links come via the blogs you’ll see under Bicycling in the blogroll, but I can’t remember who to credit for each of them so I’ll credit them all.

  •  You know you’re officially a bicycle commuter when… a thread from Team Estrogen forum, a website for women who cycle.
  • Amsterdam Bicycles – you can see a lot of people on bikes in the Netherlands, and this guy photographed 82 in 73 minutes.  Lots of funny pictures of the diversity of people riding bikes in Amsterdam.
  • Cycle Chic – Or you can go to Denmark where the women of Copenhagen prove that you don’t need to buy expensive bike jerseys and bike cleats to go for a ride.  What you wear to work or school or to the dance club is just fine.
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